Pharma sales rep regulations proposal stalls in Philadelphia, but the battle's not over yet

The Philadelphia city council temporarily tabled its pharma sales rep proposal after pressure from critics. (Pixabay)(Pixabay (Creative Common CC0)

Big Pharma got a reprieve in Philadelphia last month, but only temporarily. Philadelphia's city council paused its proposal to regulate pharmaceutical sales reps when the bill’s co-sponsors pulled it at the final meeting of the year, but they committed to taking it up again in 2019.

It was at an anticipated yes-or-no vote meeting in December where Councilman Bill Greenlee and Councilwoman Cindy Bass announced they were pulling the proposal before a vote could be taken. Greenlee, however, had already signaled the withdrawal in a series of Twitter posts the day before that called the bill a “no-brainer,” and blamed new opposition on the fact that Big Pharma "has unleashed its money and reach to cause hysteria and spread false information.”

Greenlee accused the industry of “bullying” local businesses “when pharmaceutical companies threatened to pull any future medical conventions from the city because of the ‘perception’ of the legislation.”

A spokeswoman for Greenlee said the measure will be taken up in the new session, which begins Jan. 24. She did not say whether the bill would be amended in any way, although she did confirm that Greenlee, who was out of the office on holiday, is talking to all parties.

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The proposed “Pharmaceutical Sales and Marketing Practices” gifts and conduct ordinance would regulate pharma manufacturer reps in the city with measures such as having to register with the city, which includes a fee, and prohibiting any gifts to healthcare providers and office staff. Proponents say the regulations are needed to address the role of aggressive marketing in the city’s ongoing opioid crisis as well as potential future issues.

Pharma companies will continue to register their concerns, said Christopher Molineaux, who heads the industry’s state trade association, Life Sciences Pennsylvania.

“We have significant concerns about how this ordinance was drafted without any consultation with our region’s diverse life sciences community,” he said via email. “This ordinance could discourage connections that are made in Philadelphia between researchers, scientists and healthcare providers; have a negative effect on the perception of Philadelphia as a life sciences hub; and most important, have unintended consequences for patients … all while doing nothing to actually reverse the opioid abuse epidemic.”

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Molineaux specifically pointed out the modest meal restrictions written into the bill as “absurd language,” noting that his group has confidence that physicians would not “defy their professional oath and prescribe powerful medications in exchange for a cup of coffee or a bagel.”

Bill co-sponsor Bass also took to Twitter after the meeting to say she was “disappointed but not defeated” and looked forward “to getting this important legislation passed” in the new year. In a second post, she added details from the meeting: “The pharmaceutical sales bill was held after weeks of intense lobbying by the industry, with help from the Convention and Visitors Center and even local restaurants, and over the pleas of parents who lost children to drug overdoses.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney took a middle-of-the-road stance, according to a report in the Philadelphia Tribune. He said he believes they can find a “right-size solution” for all which will let the healthcare and hospitality industries continue their work while also “allowing the city to fight back against this crisis.”

Philadelphia’s attempt to regulate sales reps follows efforts from other cities such as Chicago, which passed an ordinance to require sales rep licensing that went into effect in July 2017. Nevada also requires pharma manufacturers to submit a list of sales reps working in the state, report gifts or freebies over $10 and provide a list of drug samples distributed.